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Grannies Rage Against the Machine

It’s 2 p.m. in Quebec City, and the tear gas is floating down from the old city, on a cliff over the St. Lawrence. Eight women, all well into middle age and beyond, walk up the street linked arm in arm, wearing huge straw hats with ridiculous sprays of plastic flowers and lace shawls. They start singing softly, “We Shall Overcome,” and the crowd applauds and sings along. One activist with a white beard and a yellow T-shirt that reads globalize this! runs in front of the marching women, snaps a photo and says, “I’m going to send this to my mother and tell her she should have been here.” The Raging Grannies are older women who have formed loosely linked activist groups in many cities in Canada and a few in the United States. They concern themselves with everything: poverty, education, the destruction of the environment, gender inequality, and unequal access to health care. But they make sure they have fun. “As older women, we’re next door to invisible. So we decided to be really flamboyant, to pull off these stereotypes in a funny way,” says Fran Thoburn, a member of the first group, formed in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1987 to protest U.S. nuclear naval exercises in Canadian waters. Alma Norman, an Ottawa Granny adds, “A lot of the activists are young. So it matters that we’re older. We have a multigenerational perspective.”

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